Big money? Bitcoin? No, Yap!

Today people are looking for big money. In the vast Pacific Ocean, you will find big money. They are called Yap. No, they re not a new kind of crypto-currency.

Travellers are attracted by tropical beauty and a comfortable climate. If you are looking for a little bit of privacy, you can find it in one of the Yap Islands. But visitors are often quite surprised at the fact that people leave their savings out of their pockets. Actually, their saving are left in the street! And this is big money!

Walking around the islands, you will notice stone disks in front of buildings and along paths. In the local language those disks are called “rai”. These disks make up the native currency of Yap. Instead of securing money in vaults, there village “banks”, in which the assets are hold outside. A common feature is a hole at the center of each “coin”. Imagine: money just left against coconut trees and walls. These pieces can weigh more than five tons and up to 12 feet [4 m] in diameter.

How Yap came to existence

Legend says that in the distant past, a group of Yapese travellers landed on the island of Palau and obtained some beautiful stones. They took them back to Yap. Yapese people decided to use them as currency. They started the carving of the stones, giving to the disks the shape of the full moon but with a hole in the middle. What kind of material did they use? They preferred minerals that we now know as calcite and aragonite. The Aragonite is found in deposits in the ground. It is also a substance found in pearls; the calcite is the main component in marble. You have to know that these minerals do not exists on the Yap Island. But where did they take the minerals? The Yapese continued going to Palau to obtain stones. Palau lies some 250 miles [400 km] to the southwest of Yap, a trip of 5 days across dangerous seas in outrigger canoes. The local chief of Palau granted the Yapese the permission of collecting solid rock. Using primitive hand tools, they cut slabs of stone from underground caves and carved the slabs into a disk shape. To carve just one piece, the exausting work of hammering and carving continued for months, sometimes even years!



In the rocks were cut holes to accommodate stout poles on which the stones could be carried down on the shore. There the carved money was loaded upon canoes or bamboo rafts. Just too transport one large piece, the workers stood it up in the water and then built a large raft around it. Can you imagine the wind in the sails , strong arms on the oars, towing the raft carrying the newly carved wealth back to Yap? All this work was quite dangerous. Many were injured or killed while cutting and moving massive chunks of rock on dry land. It's interesting to know that stone money is visible on the ocean floor around Yap and Palau. This is proof that not all the treasure made it to Yap safely. But even that sunken money, however, belongs to a person or family on Yap. It has value just as the stone disks on dry land do.

Risk of stealing

Picture this scene: after the purchase of a “rai”, the new owner generally leaves the stones where they are. Many of them have been in their actual location for decades! Generally they are even a long distance from the homes of their current owners. Stealing is not a problem. Why? Let's suppose a thief had his eye on a stone coin. In order to steal it, he would first have to find the strength to take it and then be brazen enough to do so. Surely such an attempt would not pass unnoticed, since the neighbors know who owns each stone wheel.


How much is a Yap coin worth?

How can the value of a piece of stone money be determined?

  • First, you take in consideration its size, its natural beauty, and the quality of its sculpture.
  • Second, you consider its history:
    • How old is the stone? Was it very difficult to collect and carve?
    • Were anybody live endangered when men took it on the voyage to Yap? Has anybody died?
    • What is the social condition of those involved in the transaction?

For example, stone money in the hands of a chief has more value than that owned by a commoner.

The production started in the 1880's In 1931 the production of Yap coin stopped. Only in 1960 a foreign bank decided to purchase a Yap coin, a piece of stone money measuring five feet in diameter. Yap coins was used as payment to workers for the construction of a building. On another special events, it had been given by people of one village to neighbouring villagers for their performance of a special dance. All these transactions were carried out without moving the stone from its original location, and no written records were registered. The coin’s ownerer and its history were common knowledge on Yap Islands.

Bitcoin vs Yap-coin

Now compare Bitcoin to Yap coin:

  • Production: Yap carving → Bitcoin mining
  • Security: Which one is easier to steal? Yap coin? Is so, you should ask yourself why Yap coin are still there! Yap coins are so big that they cannot fit in a car.
  • Value: Which one is more subject to inflation? Well, Bitcoins are hard to mine. Yap coin are hard to carve: in fact, no one of this stone money has been made since 1931 (the new ones, made with iron tools and shipped on cargo ships, despite their size, are less precious, since they were not produced in the traditional, more difficult way).
  • Stability: Yap coin is born stable. Bitcon is born with a high volatility.
  • Quantity: both currencies have a well known total number: 13.121 Yap coin (1), 21 million Bitcoin.


(1) The number refers to the traditionally made coin. During World War II, troops deliberately confiscated the majority of the stone currency and broke some of it up to construct airstrips and fortifications. A half the stone disks survived. Then souvenir collectors and private collectors made off with many of the disks. Today, the government protects and treat the stone money as a cultural treasure and gives it legal protection.

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